Class is in Session: A Discussion Guide to Help Families Navigate Schools

This guide is designed to help adoptive, foster, and kinship support group leaders facilitate a discussion on navigating school systems and advocating for children and youth in a school setting. Even if you do not plan to lead a meeting on this topic, school issues are fairly universal. The suggestions here can help you respond any time educational challenges come up.

First, do your homework

Consider the following as you get ready for the meeting:

  • Foster and adoptive parents may have different levels of control when it comes to advocating for their children at school. You may need to adapt the discussion based on your group.
  • Remind members that their children’s stories belong to their children. This includes information about any past experiences, diagnoses, or behavioral challenges. It is important to share respectfully and with the understanding that the group is a place of safety and confidentiality. We share with purpose and only what is necessary. We share our stories to help one another learn.
  • Conversations about school challenges can be frustrating. It is easy for the conversation to turn negative and unproductive. As the facilitator, part of your job is to help your group stay focused on sharing solutions. Help members maintain a mindset that challenges are not insurmountable. At the same time, what works for one person might not work for others.
  • Group members may have children with vastly different academic and social/emotional abilities at school. It’s important to not compare one child’s experience to another. Encourage members to not minimize the challenges of others. Success will look different for everyone.

Learn about your local support resources

It’s important to learn about resources in your community so that you can help your group members when they are struggling.

Families may feel overwhelmed and alone in advocating for their children at school. Depending on the family’s circumstances, professional educational advocates may be available to help children and youth get what they need. Many jurisdictions include educational advocacy as part of their support services for eligible adoptive and guardianship families. Further, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015 promotes educational stability for children in foster care.

You can learn more about educational support for children impacted by child welfare by visiting the Child Welfare Information Gateway website. It has resources on adoption and school, as well as educational services for children in foster care. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Education has information on protecting children with disabilities. This includes how to request help from the Office of Civil Rights. Find these resources on page 9 of this guide.

It is useful to know the laws and national resources. But this should be paired with an understanding of what is available locally. A good place to start is on the AdoptUSKids website. You can look up your state or territory to find information on the post-adoption and guardianship support in your area. The site also shows agency contact information.

Also, each state has a Community Parent Resource Center.This is a federally-funded resource hub for parents of children with disabilities. Many of them offer training, advocacy help, and other support caregivers can use.


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